Scientists may have found liquid water on Mars

Scientists may have found liquid water on Mars

Putting an end to decades of doubt and debates, scientists have finally found evidence that there is not just frozen water on the surface of Mars, there actually is a massive reservoir-like catchment of liquid water just under the surface of the red planet.

"This took us long years of data analysis and struggles to find a good method to be sure that what we were observing was unambiguously liquid water", said study co-author Enrico Flamini, chief scientist at the Italian Space Agency.

The team, using radar instruments (MARSIS) aboard a European Space Agency orbiter, say they found a lake under the polar cap that stretches about 20km across and 1.5km deep.

"This subsurface anomaly on Mars has radar properties matching water or water-rich sediments", Roberto Orosei, principal investigator of the MARSIS experiment and lead author of the paper, said in a press release.

In order to remain liquid in such cold conditions (the research team estimate between -10°C and -30° where it meets the ice above), the water likely has a great many salts dissolved in it. That data revealed what appears to be evidence of liquid water sitting trapped beneath the ice on the planet's pole. The only other evidence of liquid water on Mars has been of transient seasonal flows and ancient bodies of water. Traces of water have been found in its atmosphere and leeching through its soils, but efforts to locate bodies of water - a likely place to find life as we know it - have not yet been successful. It was only through the work of the past 17 years of a constant robotic presence making scientific discoveries-including many previous hints of underground water-that a stable body of liquid water on Mars could have been found.

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Liquid water hanging out beneath the planet's surface, which is too hot for it to survive, has been a suspected reality for years. The footprints are color-coded corresponding to the "power" of the radar signal reflected from features below the surface. This drastic change, as mentioned above, is similar to radar signal profiles acquired from glacial regions on Earth where liquid water is known to exist beneath the ice.

Lake Vostok is a persistent lake of freshwater, some 4 kilometres below the surface of the East Antarctica ice sheet.

NASA is planning to launch a new rover as early as July 2020 with a mission to comprehensively determine whether life ever arose on Mars, while characterising the climate and geology of the red planet and preparing for human exploration. While it was not the Mars anyone imagined, in many ways this increased the planet's allure. Once its air had gone, the water either evaporated or froze.

"They haven't seen the light of day for hundreds of thousands of years", he said.

"MARSIS was able to detect echoes from beneath the southern polar cap of Mars, that were stronger than surface echoes", Orosei explained. "This is very big news for astrobiology on Mars", said NASA's McKay. "On Mars, that's much more hard, of course, because we can't really drill into the ice".

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